Blog Prompt: Does "voice" that resonates compete with or enhance "academic voice"? How can we write successfully as "academics" and still have voice?
The quick answers are yes, and I don’t know. Yes, my real voice competes with my academic voice. How do I fix that? I’m not sure, but I do think it’s possible. I still remember the first time a professor really challenged me to find my voice. I’ve shared this story in class before. It was my senior year of college. I had spent my entire academic writing career (if high school and such can count as part of that “career”) writing with the “formula.” Seven to ten sentences for a paragraph. Never begin a sentence with “and” or “but.” No contractions. No fragments, not even for emphasis. When it came to sources, my words were buried between indirect and direct quotations. My professor looked at me and looked at my paper and said, “Where are you in all this?” I couldn’t answer him. I had no idea. It was a good paper, in terms of grammar and mechanics. Clear thesis, concise, but valid arguments with supporting statements. But it lacked passion. It lacked voice. Particularly my voice. I write all the time. It’s something I’ve loved doing for as long as I can remember. When I read my journals or prose writings, I can hear myself. Others who read my work have a clear portrait of who I am. How do I make that transfer?
When we read Harris’ chapter on Voice, I remember thinking that his voice was so distinct. Even before he mentioned the editing that had gone into that chapter (in terms of “real voice” being in quotes so often), I had noticed his voice among the voices he was citing. Elbow’s article on voice was similar in that way. Both are scholarly, academic articles with individual, non-academic voice. I mean, of course, they’re writing on voice, so one would expect their words to have personality. But how do they do it?
My theory? I think we have to learn the formulaic writing first. We learn to write in an academic voice that’s not our own. We read levels that are higher than our ability to produce them, and so we aspire to imitate that kind of writing. I think that’s pretty common. So my theory is this… When we master the formula, we learn how to break the rules. In theory, I will eventually become confident in my academic writing. When this confidence takes place, I will learn how to be more assertive about what I think. My opinion. As a result, my voice will start to dominate the other academic voices in my paper (i.e. my sources). I’ll feel less constrained to follow the academic rules of the text. I will know them and mostly abide by them, but now I will have power over them. I will have the power to freely express, freely choose my words, my form, my structure.
What a glorious day…